Revealing links across various periods of production, Signs and Ciphers, an exhibition of works by Belfast-based artist Alistair Wilson, is broken into four parts and realised across two galleries. Encompassing selected works spanning forty years of production, the exhibition does not set out to provide a definitive survey of Wilson’s work to date, rather this extended exhibition draws together key works in an attempt to bring to the fore the prevailing themes and common characteristics present in Wilson’s practice. This rare opportunity to experience such a substantial body of Wilson’s work creates an opportunity to delve into the formal and conceptual concerns and the tension for his work to conform to having a fixed state.
The first instalment launches at the Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast on the 3rd August 2017 and focusses on Wilson’s more recent practice. The second instalment, at the Millennium Court Art Centre, Portadown, in October/November 2017, features examples of work dating back to the early 1970s.
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication that brings together writings by David Campbell, Jean-Jacques Passera and Michéle Roberts, along with illustrations of key works through the period to both record and share insight into ways of seeing Wilson’s ongoing enquiries.
Golden Thread Gallery: 3rd August to 16th September 2017
Millennium Court Arts Centre: November 2017
“Wilson likes to play with deception, turning the impossible into the possible by transformation: liquid becomes solid, watery objects float and voluminous wells defy any preconception of their weight.”
(Sonia Rolak, Circa Magazine, 2002)
When you enter Alistair Wilson’s studio, you are immediately confronted with the smell of volatile paint fumes and evidence of serious creative enquiry. Mysterious armatures swathed in white linen sheets make their presence felt. There are life-affirming tensions between the formal and the poetic and the only constants are the beauty of the objects, the delight in the discovery and the sculptures that politely ask to be born. His poetic structures come to life in the space between the romantic and the cerebral and exist in the “here and now”. Much more than a retrospective, this collaboration between Alistair Wilson, Golden Thread Gallery and Millennium Court Arts Centre attempts to capture the diversity of his practice by recreating his quest to understand and transform the materials that surround him. The work itself deals with alchemy, order, chaos and metamorphosis.
The journey begins in Golden Thread Gallery with a new body of work that is quietly evolving in his studio as we speak. When I visited his studio Wilson said very casually, “It’s all about chasing hares …“ - a throw-away remark rooted in deep myth and Buddhism that seemed to make sense at the time. This new work will be presented with recent experiments from the past couple of years.
Talking about the sense of place in his work, Wilson muses, “I think it’s a question of trying to deal with both the actuality of the real space, and somehow play with the possibilities of the conceptual space: a memory, a projection or a wish.”
The Millennium Court exhibition presents a selection of earlier works some of which go back 40 years providing audiences with an insight into the fleeting obsessions that have driven his practice and will continue to do so in the future.
Born in Penarth in 1951, Wilson studied at Preston Polytechnic, Bath Academy and Chelsea School of Art, also spending a year in Berlin on a DAAD Postgraduate Fellowship in 1975. Work produced during this period was exhibited as a solo show at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien and at the 6th Berliner Frier Kunst Austellung under the DAAD umbrella. Between 1979 and 2011 he combined work as a lecturer at the University of Ulster with a concentrated studio practice and, in 2002, was appointed Course Leader for the prestigious Master of Fine Art course, a position he held until 2011. In 2008 he was appointed Reader in Fine Art.
During the 80s he was represented in Ireland by the Oliver Dowling Gallery, Dublin and latterly, until 2011, by Hugh Mulholland at the Third Space Gallery, Belfast. He has exhibited extensively throughout this period both at home and abroad, including: installations for Dogs have no religion, Museum of Modern Art, Prague; Irish Artists, Regina Gouger Miller Gallery, Pittsburgh, USA; and a residency at the Nuovo Icona Gallery, Venice, culminating in the installation Fonte at the Oratorio San Ludovico, 2003.
Wilson has had numerous solo shows at the Oliver Dowling Gallery in Dublin and was one of fourteen artists that represented Northern Ireland in the 2005 Venice Biennale as part of The Nature of Things, curated by Hugh Mullholland. In more recent years he has had solo exhibitions in Belfast, Derry, Manchester and Berlin.